From Awareness to Action: The Importance of Queer and Trans Migrant Activism

This year the UT Libraries Diversity Action Committee (DAC) is proud to present Dr. Karma Chavez of UT’s Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies as the keynote speaker at our spring event, From Awareness to Action: The Importance of Queer and Trans Migrant Activism. Karma will discuss the immigration activist movement, intersections that complicate immigrant experiences, and the importance of the inclusion of queer and trans activism in the movement. Her talk is entitled “#AbolishICE: The Importance of Queer and Trans Migrant Activism.”

Dr. Chavez’s Description of Her Keynote

“Numerous trans and queer migrant organizations and projects with radical politics have formed in the past few years, and they have become key actors on the national immigration stage. Such groups include the Black LGBTQ+ Immigrants Project (of the Transgender Law Center), Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (of the Center for Transformative Action), and Trans Queer Pueblo.

These groups organize around issues such as reclaiming the anti-police ethos of Stonewall, supporting detained people during and after their incarceration, building liberation for trans Latinx migrants, and challenging the criminalization and marginalization of black queer and trans migrants. Moreover, these and other poor and working class, queer and trans migrants of color within diffuse organizations have been central in pushing the mainstream movement, or that which can be characterized as being dominated by mestiza/o Latinx organizations and points of view, including privileging traditional heteronormative family values, the church, hard work, and a distancing from being “criminal.”

Increasingly, and because of the work of queer and trans migrant activists, the mainstream part of the movement is being pushed beyond its traditionally assimilationist aspirations toward demands for #Not1More deportation, and even to #AbolishICE.”

Intersectionality and Its Effects on Migrants

The race, gender, and sexuality of migrants intersect to influence how they are treated both at the border and after they have established themselves in the United States. The term “intersectionality” was coined by legal scholar and critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the ways in which black women experienced both racism as people of color and misogyny as women. In her landmark paper, Crenshaw was specifically addressing court cases in which issues were seen as either racial discrimination or sex discrimination but not both. In the thirty-one years since her article’s publication, discussions of intersectionality have grown to encompass issues of sexuality, economic class, and other ways in which people can be marginalized. In Crenshaw’s own words: “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.”

The way in which immigrants are depicted demonstrates the lens through which popular culture prefers to see those seeking to cross the border into the United States. Mainstream immigration activists tend to circulate images that show a certain type of immigrant: a mother trying to protect her children, a man wearing a Christian cross, and other images centering on family and religion. These images resonate with many people because they fit with the cis-centric, heteronormative, essentialist cultural perceptions concerning those who “deserve” aid. They ignore the presence and compounded struggles of queer and trans migrants; rather, they present all immigrants as members of a Christian nuclear family unit composed of a (cis-male) father and (cis-female) mother. This serves to erase the existence and struggles of immigrants who are queer, non-binary, or transgender.

The treatment of LGBTQ+ immigrants has led to the rise of activist movements that seek to address the ways in which these individuals experience both immigration injustice and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry. These movements seek to resist the assimilationist tendencies of mainstream immigration activism and push for recognition of their own unique status as LGBTQ+ immigrants. One such group, #Not1More Deportationexplains:

In recent years, the terms of the immigration debate have been poisoned and a crisis created as deportations, incarceration, and criminalization of immigrant communities has escalated at unprecedented rates. But at the same time record numbers of people are refusing to be victims and instead are drawing an entirely different picture by taking a stand for themselves, for their families, for our communities, and for all of us.

Likewise, the movement to #AbolishICE has gained momentum over the last few years both online and with elected officials.

Tweet by Ilhan Omar stating: ICE exists to dehumanize, deport, and destroy the lives of Black and brown people. As long as it’s in operation, we can’t restore dignity to the immigration process. #AbolishICE

We hope you will join us next Wednesday to listen to Dr. Chavez talk about her research on these complicated issues! Her keynote address will be followed by a Q&A. We will then have an opt-in activity (in partnership with Diversidad Sin Fronteras Texas) in which participants will have the opportunity to write letters of support and love to asylum-seeking trans women currently in detention.

Activism and Migration Groups (*please note: we have chosen to copy the terminology used by each of these groups to describe the groups with whom they work. For more information see the LGBTQ Encyclopedia on the DAC Blog*)

Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project

One of the programs hosted by the Transgender Law Center, BLMP seeks to support Black LGTQIA+ migrants through “community-building, political education, creating access to direct services, and organizing across borders.” They also seek to address the systemic issues that lead to the unjust treatment of migrants.

Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement

Familia: TQLM is an advocacy group for “all LGBTQ Latinos, Latinas, and gender nonconforming individuals.” In partnership with non-LGBTQ allies, they work to unite the LGBTQ Latino and Latina community.

Queer Detainee Empowerment Project

QDEP supports queer individuals in immigration detention, works to help them build a life after being detained, and organizes efforts to fight against the negative treatment of LGBTQIA, transsexual, and gender non-conforming by the state.

Trans Queer Pueblo

 Located in Arizona, Trans Queer Pueblo seeks to support members of the LGBTQ+ migrant community of color through advocating for movements that lead to self-sufficiency.


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